It isn’t paranoia if everyone really is out to get you
BY now, most folks have heard about spyware and its potential pitfalls. Anecdotal tales of stolen data, identity theft, and malicious corruption of computers run rampant. Recommendations for spyware avoidance, however, can vary widely.
Part of the problem for this variance is that, unlike viruses, the definition of spyware is a little ambiguous. Some experts go so far as to define spyware as any software product that collects information from your PC and sends it back a central control facility, without your knowledge.
This definition, however, is overly broad and is often put out to sell anti-spyware products. Under this definition, even programs designed to protect against malicious attacks would be spyware. For example, virtually all anti-virus and anti-spyware programs collect information during their scan or detection process. This information is then sent back to the software vendor, purportedly to increase the efficacy of the product.
Even the most seasoned users have a difficult time identifying when information is being gathered from their PC and sent off. Many times, folks have actually agreed to allow information to be collected by approving software license agreements.
With all this confusion, people are often misled if they ever happen to run two different anti-spyware programs. One may ignore cookies while another may report cookies as being spyware. Does this mean one program is better than the other? Probably not.
We believe that the main defining factor to spyware is whether or not the information collected is intended to be used in a malicious manner. As such, most mainstream software products do not fall into this category.
The bottom line is to be diligent, but not paranoid about spyware. Run a reputable anti-spyware package such as Ad-Aware, PestPatrol, Spybot, Webroot, or Trend Micro Anti-Spyware. Set it up to scan and update regularly. Don't disable cookies in your browser as that will render many legitimate Websites unusable.
Frankly, the most common sources of spyware are Web sites and software packages that aren't exactly reputable. This includes peer-to-peer networking, gaming, and others (you know what we mean). Staying away from such vices will go a long way toward staying spyware-free.
is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org